PAHO equips six Caribbean countries with legislation on public health issues

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The Pan American Health Organization recently convened a four-day workshop in Barbados for public health and legal experts from six Caribbean countries. The focus was on legislation and the legal drafting of regulatory tools aimed at eliminating industrially produced trans fatty acids (iTFA) and implementing sodium reduction targets for packaged foods.

Excessive consumption of sodium and trans-fats ranks among the leading causes of death worldwide, contributing significantly to the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases, which are among the top causes of mortality.   The elimination of trans-fats could save an estimated 17.5 million lives globally by 2040.   Reducing dietary sodium has been identified as an effective and cost-efficient way to save lives; for every US$ 1 invested in scaling up sodium reduction interventions, there will be a return of at least US$ 12.

While speaking at the start of the meeting in Barbados, the Director of the PAHO/WHO Subregional Program Coordination, Caribbean office, Dean Chambliss, noted that the potential gains are clear but there is an urgent need to adopt cost-effective measures.

“The Caribbean Community has taken steps, aiming for a 0% legal limit of industrially produced trans fatty acids in our food supply… Considering that over 40% of the world’s population has already put in place trans fatty acids limits, and with the availability of healthier, commercially competitive alternatives, it is imperative that the Caribbean aligns swiftly to eliminate trans-fatty acids,” he said. The Global Action Plan on NCDs aims to cut sodium intake by 30% and eliminate industrially produced trans fatty acids by 2025.  The PAHO Subregional Director emphasised this could only be achieved through collaboration.

In his remarks, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Hon Davidson Ishmael, underlined that the Barbados Government considers the drafting of regulatory tools for Industrially Produced Trans-Fatty Acids Elimination and Sodium Reduction of the utmost importance to improving health outcomes in an equitable way.

“In alignment with PAHO and WHO guidelines, Barbados has resolved to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fats from our food environment … Barbados remains steadfast in its commitment to removing Industrially Produced Trans-Fatty Acids from our local food supply by December 2024. We have engaged with both government and non-government stakeholders, including industry representatives, to ensure compliance and to establish robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms post-2024,” Mr Ishmael noted.

The Minister of State also pledged to pilot and champion initiatives aimed at improving the overall food environment. This commitment includes the implementation of the Barbados School Nutrition Policy and the National Nutrition Policy, the introduction of taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages, and advocating for octagonal front-of-package warning labels.

PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries, Dr Amalia Del Riego, described legislation and regulations as some of the most powerful tools in public health.

“We know that they are effective, and that they have worked on many fronts.  Therefore, in the comprehensive approach to NCDs we must continue making the efforts to enforce legislation that will address the determinants and risk factors of health.  It will not be smooth sailing because we know the challenges in dealing with industry interests as they may not always be aligned with the greater good, the health of the people,” Dr Del Riego remarked.

A recently produced study on the economic impact of eliminating industrially produced trans-fatty acids in Barbados was also shared with participants.  Produced by PAHO, the University of the West Indies’ George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre, the Caribbean Institute for Health Research, the Barbados Statistical Service and other regional partners, the report compared the 2019 consumption of Partially Hydrogenated Oil (PHOs) in Barbados with a counterfactual scenario in which PHOs were eliminated from the food supply.  The study estimated that nine cardiovascular disease-related deaths are associated with not having a policy in place to ban PHOs from the food supply.  Additionally, a national ban on the production or use of PHOs as an ingredient in all foods in 2019 would save more than half a million US Dollars ($546 246) in future productivity losses.

The workshop was organised in collaboration with the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, the University of the West Indies Faculty of Law at Cave Hill and Resolve to Save Lives.  Six countries were represented at the meeting: Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, Saint Lucia and Suriname.

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